Were Taufscheine (birth and baptism certificates) made in twentieth century Europe


Some people ask if Taufscheine (birth and baptism certificates) were made in twentieth century Europe. Among German-speaking Europeans, the answer is "yes," but they were not what Americans associate with fraktur. Fraktur are defined as 18th and 19th century decorated manuscripts and printed materials made by and for Pennsylvania Germans. A key word in that definition is "decorated." Taufscheine were one type of fraktur, and they were personal documents -- hence the decoration which was often added by hand. In 19th and 20th century Europe, Taufscheine were generally official documents as can be seen by the example pictured here. This Taufschein (singular form of Taufscheine) was made for Maria Luisa Kathe Ellermann who was born May 24, 1907 in Wilmersdorf near Berlin. She was baptized on Christmas day in 1907. As was true of many official documents, a seal was stamped on this certificate (below last printed line of the main text).




What is the difference between a fraktur and a Taufschein (birth and baptism certificate)?


Fraktur is an "umbrella" term that includes many categories such as bookplates, writing specimens, religious texts, and Taufscheine (the plural form of Taufschein). Fraktur artists and professional scriveners even made Bible records that are included in the genre of fraktur. To the delight of family historians researching German heritage, the most numerous type of fraktur is the Taufschein.




Were fraktur ever made on parchment?


In our more than 40 years of research, we have never seen a fraktur made on parchment. Fraktur (the word is singular or plural) are works of art on paper. However, one example made on fabric is known. It was made in Ohio and is pictured in Klaus Stopp's fifth volume (see store).




Is Dr. Bodo Otto related to fraktur artist Johann Henrich Otto?


The question often comes up about the relationship of Dr. Bodo Otto to fraktur artist Johann Henrich Otto (1733-ca.1799). Bodo Otto was a senior surgeon in the Continental Army serving George Washington when the Revolution began. There is no known relationship between fraktur artist, Johann Henrich Otto and Bodo Otto. Of interest, many members of Bodo's family were medical doctors, including his grandson, John Bodo Otto (1785-1858), who testified in 1809 at the trial of the unfortunate Susanna Cox. Susanna Cox was hanged in Reading, Pennsylvania, for infanticide. See our book, The Hanging of Susanna Cox, in the Earnest Archives and Library store for more about this tragedy.




Are there Fraktur artists working today?


Yes, many excellent Fraktur artists make contemporary examples. These Fraktur are generally stylistically traditional in appearance, and the texts on them usually have the same themes. Concerning genealogical data, of course, the texts record recent events such as births and marriages. Be sure to read the December issue of the EAL Newsletter (a free online newsletter that appears on this web site). It will include a brief article about one contemporary artist.




What is Fraktur?


Fraktur are 18th and 19th century decorated manuscripts and printed materials made by and for Pennsylvania Germans. Most fraktur were made in southeastern Pennsylvania, but many were also made wherever descendants of Pennsylvania Germans settled (the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, the Carolinas, western Maryland, and Ontario in Canada). Most fraktur (the word is singular and plural) are Taufscheine.





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